Why Young Adults Say They Won't Get a COVID-19 Vaccine

Surveys Fielded From Dec. 16 to Jan. 29

young adult male taking selfie with phone while wearing a mask

Maria Voronovich / Getty Images

Key Themes From Our Survey

  • Vaccine acceptance rose slightly in our latest survey, but at this point, we can’t say it’s a trend.
  • Vaccine rejectors skew younger than acceptors. Why? One reason could be their preferred news sources—social media. Another could be COVID-19’s lesser impact on younger populations.
  • Rejection of the COVID-19 vaccine could spell disaster. Every age group needs to take the vaccine, even if they aren’t all that susceptible to severe infection.

Young people tend to think they’re invincible. And in the case of COVID-19, they’re not always wrong—most young people show few symptoms if they contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus. But our data shows that this may be leading them to dismiss the urgency of getting the COVID-19 vaccine, potentially putting others, and their future selves, at risk. 

The pandemic is still raging and the United States is nearing 500,000 COVID-related deaths. But this sobering statistic is paired with some good news: over 64 million people in the U.S. have now gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and the vaccine rollout is up to 2 million shots in arms every day. The U.S. just secured an additional 200 million doses of vaccines (for a total of 600 million) to be delivered by the end of July, which should be enough for every American to get two doses of vaccine. 

Now that the U.S. has secured the necessary doses, the next hurdle is to get everyone to take a vaccine. Verywell Health’s latest vaccine sentiment survey shows a slight uptick in vaccine acceptance. But vaccine rejection and hesitation remain high: In the most recent survey data, 43% of our respondents say they won’t get the vaccine or haven’t decided if they will. 

The data presented in this article is from four surveys of 1,000 Americans, the most recent responses collected during the week of January 25. We asked their thoughts and feelings about getting vaccinated for COVID-19. The survey sample highlighted three types of respondents based on their answer to whether or not they’d get an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine if it were freely available: 

  • Acceptors: Those who would agree to be vaccinated
  • Rejectors: Those who would not agree to take a vaccine
  • Undecideds: Those who don’t know if they would take a vaccine

The kinds of people who say they won’t take the vaccine or haven’t decided about taking the vaccine are wide and varied. But we’re seeing many of them in younger age groups. Here, we explore the anti-COVID-19 vaccine attitudes in people under 40.

Who Are the Young Rejectors?

Our data shows that people who say they won't get the COVID-19 vaccine are consistently younger than people who say they definitely will. In our latest wave, young respondents are more than twice as likely as older respondents to not want the vaccine. Nearly half (47%) of those under 30 are rejectors, compared with just 17% of those over 50.

Among respondents under 30, 47% say they won't get the COVID-19 vaccine, 35% say they will, and 18% say they don't know. 

This trend may rise from younger people being less likely to get seriously ill from a COVID-19 infection. Only 43% of survey respondents under 30 say they’re concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic, compared with 67% of respondents over 50, who are at a higher risk of serious illness.

Not only are younger people less worried about COVID-19; they're also less convinced the vaccines are effective against it. Only 22% of those under 30 are confident the vaccine will protect them against COVID, compared with 49% of those over 50. Given infection is less severe in younger populations and they don't think a vaccine will do them much good anyway, it makes sense that a vaccine might be a harder sell.

Why It Matters

If younger people don’t usually get very sick from COVID-19, why do we care if they don’t get vaccinated? Successful vaccination campaigns rely on a large segment of the population to become immune to the infection—that is, to develop “herd immunity." Herd immunity happens when enough of a given population is resistant to an infection that the infection stops passing from person to person. Even if they don't experience many symptoms, younger people are just as likely to transmit COVID-19 as older people. We all need to step up and get vaccinated to protect everyone.

Who Is the Under-30 Crowd Listening To?

Our survey responses suggest another potential source of COVID-19 vaccine rejection among the younger crowd: the media consumption of people under 30.

We already know from previous weeks that social media is a major source of COVID-19 news among all our respondents, second only to cable and local news. And social media is the biggest driver of COVID-19 vaccine information among respondents who said they will not get a shot.

Twenty-eight percent of vaccine rejectors see COVID-19 news on Instagram, and nearly 1 in 5 rejectors get their pandemic news from TikTok.

The audiences for these apps, compared to Facebook, are younger. 

  • 86% of TikTok users are under 45 
  • 78% of Instagram users are under 45
  • 61.8% of Facebook users are under 45

In our survey, 75% of respondents under 30 say they get COVID-19 news from social media, compared to 36% of respondents over 50. So it makes sense that these younger users harbor the anti-vaccine sentiments of social media-active rejectors.

People under 30 are about twice as likely as people over 50 to look to social media influencers and celebrities to help inform their COVID-19 vaccine decision. They're also significantly less likely to say healthcare workers are relevant to their decision (44% versus 67% among those over 50).

Social Media: The Good and The Bad

Social media and the internet has democratized information, so there is some good here. Many people share accurate vaccine information—the platforms can give doctors and scientists a voice to reach people directly.

Others are using social media to share the experience of getting the vaccine, their vaccine reaction, and side effects (or lack thereof). It’s also emerging as a way for young people who do get very sick with COVID-19 to highlight their experiences, sharing that the danger is real.

The problem is that the lack of regulations on user-generated content has made social media a trove of misinformation, disinformation, and rumors. Users can post without verifying the accuracy of their claims—or even without the intention of being accurate at all. And algorithms are designed to keep you scrolling.

How Social Media Brands Are Responding

Given the devastating public health impact of COVID-19 misinformation, social media companies have created some rules and resources for their users.

  • TikTok created an in-app notice on posts with #covid19 and related hashtags, connecting users to the World Health Organization website and local public health agencies. According to its Safety Center, the platform is actively removing anti-vaccine content and working with fact-checking partners to remove false or misleading content.
  • Instagram has introduced a series of updates, including messaging on any content it identifies as related to COVID-19, directing users to the Word Health Organization to learn more. The platform has also added more stickers to promote accurate information.
  • Facebook has created personalized COVID-19 Information center pages, and vaccine searches only surface information from reputable sources. Facebook has now banned all posts with false vaccine claims—not just those about COVID-19.

So, what can we do? We know people say they're more likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine if they know someone else who has. Seventy percent of those who know someone vaccinated say they’d get a shot, compared to 48% of those who don’t know someone who's been vaccinated.

When it’s time to get vaccinated, get your dose and share your story on social media. Encourage your friends and family to get theirs if their doctor recommends it. 

Methodology

The Verywell Vaccine Sentiment Tracker is a bi-weekly measurement of Americans’ attitudes and behaviors around COVID-19 and the vaccine. The survey is fielded online, every other week beginning December 16, 2020 to 1,000 American adults. The total sample matches U.S. Census estimates for age, gender, race/ethnicity, and region.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID data tracker. Updated February 22, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccinations in the United States. Updated February 19, 2021.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in number of COVID-19 vaccinations in the US. Updated February 22, 2021.

  4. The White House. Remarks by President Biden to National Institutes of Health staff. Updated February 11, 2021.

  5. Wallaroo Media. TikTok statistics – updated February 2021. Updated February 6, 2021.

  6. Statista. Distribution of Instagram users in the United States as of January 2021, by age group. February 1, 2021.

  7. Statista. Distribution of Facebook users in the United States as of January 2021, by age group. Updated February 1, 2021.

  8. Su Y. It doesn’t take a village to fall for misinformation: Social media use, discussion heterogeneity preference, worry of the virus, faith in scientists, and COVID-19-related misinformation beliefsTelematics and Informatics. 2021;58:101547. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2020.101547

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